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Experts: Spitzer's potential troubles may include prison

  • Story Highlights
  • Spitzer allegedly paid for a prostitute to be transported across state lines
  • Attorney: Prosecutors might consider charging Spitzer with conspiracy
  • Attorney: Money-laundering charges also might be involved
  • Sources: Spitzer spent more than $15,000 for encounters with prostitutes
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(CNN) -- Legal experts expressed astonishment Tuesday over the reckless behavior attributed to New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, but disagreed over whether his alleged liaisons with prostitutes should cause him to step down.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is facing calls for his resignation.

Matt Kluger, a criminal defense lawyer in the Bronx, told CNN that prosecutors may have no choice but to bring charges if Spitzer fails to step aside.

Though patronizing a prostitute is generally considered no more than a misdemeanor in New York, Spitzer's alleged payment for a woman to be transported across state lines -- from New York to Washington -- raises the ante, said Kluger, a Democrat.

"It's stupid enough to patronize a prostitute in his position, but to turn it into a federal offense by being involved in the transportation ... is insane. It's more than wondering what he was thinking. He's a lawyer."

Kluger said a possible resignation may be part of negotiations between Spitzer and prosecutors.

"It's my guess that perhaps there'll be some backroom dealing where, if he steps down, they'll agree not to charge him. ... My guess is that the powers that be have decided that the embarrassment and stepping down is enough. Throwing criminal charges is adding insult to injury."

But, Kluger said, "If he chooses to stay, I can't imagine they would let it go. These are very serious allegations." Take a closer look at Spitzer's career and background »

Spitzer could face up to 10 years in prison if charged and convicted of violating the Mann Act, Kluger said.

The act concerns "knowingly transporting any individual, male or female, in interstate or foreign commerce or in any territory or possession of the United States for the purpose of prostitution or sexual activity which is a criminal offense under the federal or state statute or local ordinance."

And the potential penalty could be doubled if coercion or enticement were involved, Kluger said.

"One could make the argument that he did that, too," he said, citing Spitzer's alleged payment of the woman's travel expenses.

Federal prosecutors might also consider charging Spitzer with conspiracy, Kluger said.

"One can make the straight-faced argument that, because he was involved with this escort service, that he was a member of the conspiracy."

The attorney said Spitzer would be foolish to try to represent himself against any such charges.

"He should hire a lawyer who's well-versed in federal law, and not say anything -- that's the best thing he can do right now," Kluger said.

And, if forced to decide between stepping aside or facing possible charges, Spitzer should do the former, Kluger recommended.

"To me, staying out of prison is the number one concern, and staying in office is the number two concern."

'Shell companies'

Money-laundering charges also might be involved, depending on how the governor reported using the money, Kluger said.

Spitzer spent more than $15,000 for several encounters with prostitutes, according to sources knowledgeable about the investigation.

He appears to have shifted his own money among his bank accounts to pay the ring's organizers, raising suspicions at his bank, which filed a report with the IRS, sources with knowledge of the investigation said.

An IRS investigation determined that the money had gone to "shell companies," which are often used in money laundering and other financial crimes.

"If somebody transfers money to a fake company account knowing that it is a fake account, that person can be engaged in a money laundering conspiracy," said Scott Michel, a tax attorney in Washington.

The possibility of money crimes "bumps up your guidelines," said a former federal prosecutor who now defends people charged with white-collar crimes, referring to the federal sentencing guidelines.

"When you start throwing in the money crimes, potentially there's jail time."

But Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told CNN Tuesday that the whole matter has been blown out of proportion. Video Watch Dershowitz say Spitzer shouldn't quit »

"This is private sexual misconduct," he said, citing Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson as examples of people who could "govern well during the day while acting as children and adolescents in the evening." See a timeline of recent political sex scandals »

Dershowitz acknowledged that Spitzer -- his former law student -- stepped over the line, but said the remedy should be left to voters in the next election.

He disputed allegations that the conduct allegedly carried out by the law-and-order governor was hypocritical.

"Remember, the corruption he fought was mostly corruption with victims," he said. "People who were corrupting Wall Street, violent crimes, organized crimes. This is the personification of a victimless crime -- a 30-something-year-old prostitute making $5,000 an hour. That is not a victim."

Dershowitz also said money-laundering statutes should not apply to Spitzer.

"Money laundering is a statute designed to get organized crime," the academic said.

James Tedisco, the minority leader in New York's state assembly, was unpersuaded by Dershowitz.

"He sounds like an apologist for someone who has broken the law," said Tedisco, who has vowed to introduce articles of impeachment in the legislature within two days if Spitzer does not resign. Video Watch Tedisco say Spitzer should make up his mind immediately »

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"We don't need apologists right now, we need somebody to stand up and lead us and Eliot Spitzer is incapable of doing that right now," he said.

In an interview with CNN, Tedisco said he was calling for the move based on "ethical reasons, on illegalities and on inappropriate decision-making, like we think the governor has made." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena contributed to this story.

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